Delaware State students are fighting for campus safety. So what's next?
She won’t forget her mother’s words.
Jayda Tate was ready to head to college, a new Dover family awaiting her, when her mom came into the room. Already brimming with anticipation, the young Delawarean perched beside her.
“She sat me down on my bed, and she said, ‘I need to tell you something before you go to school,’” recalled the sophomore, glancing up through her curls.
“She said, ‘When you go somewhere, I need you to have your Taser. Don't go nowhere by yourself in the dark. Don't walk by yourself. Period. Don't pick up a drink that you haven't seen or don’t have. Nobody gives you a drink.”
Tate held onto every word. She followed the rules, rules many women hear.
“She told me: ‘One out of four girls get raped; just make sure you're not that one,’” Tate said, now heading a small table of student organizers. “And I was.”
She may have spoken as just one survivor. But her classmates are tired of the numbers.
Delaware State University has been rocked in recent days by multiple town hall meetings and an explosive protest that brought hundreds out of class on Jan. 18, calling for better campus security and improved handling of sexual assault cases.
Now, with a response taking shape, students prepare to hold their school accountable.
University President Tony Allen responded with initial steps Jan. 20 after one meeting, closed to the public and media, pushed until nearly 3 a.m. in a campus auditorium. A follow-up town hall Friday, Jan. 27, was also closed to the media.
“When I say initial, they’re baby steps,” Allen said, as several students took notes or provided recorded audio. “We have a lot more work to do across the university community. This is not a semester exercise. This is not a year exercise. This is a cultural exercise for Delaware State University.”
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A university coalition will focus on this work. Like several measures Allen announced, it joins promises to upgrade campus lighting and cameras, update the blue lights system and assess existing escort services and counseling hours. Allen did not give an exact timeline for these efforts. The president, through a university spokesperson, told USA TODAY Network he was “not inclined” to take an interview on more specifics.
Students have spoken out. Students have cried. Some say they don't feel safe; others fear their reports of sexual violence are not taken seriously. Saturday morning, Jan. 28, they woke up to another report of rape in a residence hall.
They say the work is just getting started.
Is it enough?
Kimorah Hall remembers the buzz of an assault alert at home, coming just before the protest.
“I looked at my phone, like, ‘Hmm, just normal,’” the sophomore said, holding her iPhone at the table as others murmured in agreement. “It just became so normal to get a text stating a sexual assault — like every event, every party, someone's being assaulted. You just kind of get prepared for it.”
She resented her own numbness.
“I was just like, y'all, I'm so sick of it. I'm just so sick of it.”
Tate nodded beside her, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Student Center buzzing with activity around the table of a half-dozen students. They’ve watched case numbers tick higher in crime logs, while unofficial tallies bloom in silence between survivors and friends. They know they aren’t the first to protest.
“I don't want it to fizzle out like any other thing that happens on this campus,” Tate said. “Where do we go after we make noise?”
Delaware State crime reports show five cases of rape on campus in 2019, two in 2020 and five in 2021. The university’s daily crime log shows 10 reports in 2022, as a calendar year, with four more reported this month.
This violence is not unique to Dover. University of Delaware crime statistics show five assaults in 2021, with Temple University recording seven that year. These schools are nearly four times and six times larger than Delaware State in total student population, respectively.
Nationally, over a quarter of undergraduate women will experience sexual assault, according to the Association of American Universities. The vast majority of offenses, researchers say, will go unreported.
Across the table, a soft voice joined the conversation.
“Phase one was demonstrations,” Melanie Jimmerson said. The next has been catalyzing a message for administration, from outlining demands to planning presence at the state budget hearing Feb. 2 in Legislative Hall.
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Student organizers want the school to “fortify the integrity” of its Title IX process — increasing trust and transparency, while treating cases as time-sensitive. They want “advocacy transportation” following a report to be ensured and for students facing allegations to be barred from campus activities while a case is open.
Title IX protects people from sexual discrimination, including sexual violence, in education programs. Among other grievances, organizers claim their reporting and investigative process is onerous and students often don't get through it.
All parties have the right to an adviser during the entire process, Delaware State's Office of Title IX reiterated in a statement last week. Students can refuse to resolve allegations through conflict resolution, seek housing changes or no-contact orders, seek police referral, be informed in writing of the outcome of an investigation, possible sanctions, and more.
Organizers also call for more security across the main campus and DSU Downtown; education and awareness programs across the university and police; and increased counselors and support available to students.
‘If nothing has changed when I graduate, I failed’
Student organizers are watching for progress as the university response takes shape, touching on some student demands with broad strokes. Looking ahead, they consider demonstrations during student tours or boycotting campus services like dining halls, stores and sports if action lacks.
In a statement last Friday, President Allen hoped to expand on that action.
The“Safe Space Coalition” — made of student committees, parents and administrators — will form to assess existing protocol and make recommendations to his office. Mandatory sensitivity training will be scheduled across the university, starting with public safety.
Allen said each officer will be equipped with a body camera, though this measure was also not given a timeline. Public safety is focused on expanding security and hiring more women, he said Friday.
All student demands pressed for “transparency and accountability” as the university continues its efforts. Culture change at Delaware State University, its president told a closed meeting Friday, will take time.
“It's all about accountability,” Jimmerson said. “We’ve told you what we need.”
Their university just celebrated enrollment milestones, marking a 40% expansion in the last decade by fall 2022 — but some students say they need to leave a better campus behind before those numbers grow.
“If nothing has changed when I graduate,” the sophomore said, “I failed.”
Have a story to share? Kelly Powers is a culture reporter for the How We Live team — covering race, culture and equity for the USA TODAY Network's Northeast Region and Delaware Online. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (484) 466-9121, and follow her on Twitter @kpowers01.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Delaware State students aren’t done. So what's next for campus safety?